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BMHS Students Volunteer on VetsRoll Trip

Collin Benkovich wants to make a connection with some veterans, listening to their war stories and learning from their experiences.

So, when the opportunity came up to volunteer to go on the VetsRoll trip to Washington, D.C., the 18-year-old Hononegah Community High School senior jumped at the chance.

“I’m super excited,” he said about the four-day bus trip with about 176 veterans and “Rosie the Riveters.” “It is an incredible thing to do and it will be an unforgettable experience.”

Benkovich is one of three Hononegah students who will assist veterans on the trip which will depart from the Eclipse Center in Beloit Sunday morning. The other Hononegah students are Alex Leschenko and Joshua Kimes.
The VetsRoll caravan of buses will return to Beloit on May 24.

Leschenko is a first-generation Ukrainian-American whose parents and grandparents escaped Russia in 1991 to settle in Ukraine. When Russian troops invade Ukraine the family fled the destruction caused by the war and they came to the United States.

“It made him all that much more appreciative of what Americans have done for his family’s country,” said Mark Finnegan, co-founder of VetsRoll.

He said he is amazed by the dedication of the young people who have volunteered to go on the trip this year. He said there are 18 volunteers who are under the age of 27 who have volunteered to help veterans on the VetsRoll trip this year.

The area high school students who have volunteers include the three Hononegah students, three students from Harlem High School in Machesney Park, Illinois and two students from Beloit Memorial High School.

“These students are so bright and giving. They are our future leaders. That says so much about our country’s future,” Finnegan said.

Benkovich said he became interested in the VetsRoll trip when his older brother, Evan, volunteered to go on the trip when he was a senior.

“He got such a good life experience out of it,” Benkovich said.

He added that his brother still keeps in contact with some of the vets he met on the trip.

Benkovich had to wait for his opportunity to volunteer for VetsRoll since the trip was canceled for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He learned the trip would be held this year when an announcement was made at his school.

He and the other students on the trip will not have to pay for their food or hotel stays because they either have sponsors who have donated funds to cover their costs or others have donated to cover their costs, Finnegan said.

The veterans will stop in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio before continuing to Washington to explore war memorials as well as Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other sites.

VetsRoll has been taking veterans to Washington, D.C. since 2010. The trip is funded through donations from businesses, individuals and municipal donations.

Benkovich is looking forward to his experience and establishing bonds with the veterans. He said expects this will not be his last trip with the veterans.

“For sure I would do it again,” he said.